No. 12 Razorbacks ready for test in NCAA Championship field

EARLYSVILLE, Va. – No. 12 Arkansas returns to the Panorama Farms course in Virginia for a 6,000m race in the NCAA Championships on Saturday, November 18, at 9:20 a.m. (CT). The event will be shown live on ESPNU starting at 8:30 a.m. (CT).

Live results and team scoring:

This marks the 13th consecutive appearance by the Razorbacks and 36th overall by Arkansas in the NCAA Cross Country Championships since its first appearance in 1982. The Razorbacks equal second overall with BYU and Stanford behind 37 appearances by NC State, who are two-time defending national champions.

Arkansas raced on the Panorama Farms course in mid-October and defeated a pair of higher nationally-ranked teams in finishing second to BYU.

“They took care of business in the regional meet and we wanted to get through that as unscathed as we could while getting the job done,” said Arkansas women’s assistant coach Megan Elliott. “Now our focus is on Saturday. We’re going to do everything we can to put them in the best position to be ready to execute the plan.

“Pre-Nationals was where the team kind of rose to that next level, and where we stepped up to surprise some people across the country by placing second at Pre-Nationals and knocking off a couple nationally ranked teams.”

The top ranked teams heading into the 2023 NCAA Championships are No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 2 NC State, No. 3 BYU, No. 4 Oklahoma State, and No. 5 Stanford.

SEC schools ranked nationally include No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 20 Alabama, and No. 23 Ole Miss.

“The team is young with sophomores and freshmen, so maybe that is one of the reasons why we were being underestimated,” noted Laura Taborda, the lone senior racing on the cross country squad. “It’s like we were the underdogs and trying to beat the teams that were already ranked higher than us. I think we can mix with the teams they don’t think we can.”

Familiarity with the 6k course from racing at Panorama Farms in October will be an edge for the Razorbacks.

“I believe that we already know the course is definitely an advantage,” stated Taborda. “Everybody is ready and I think we’re at the best point we could be going into the national championship. It’s really useful to have already run this course and knowing where to push and go more on the course.

“There are spots on the course where you have to be more careful with so many bodies in the race. We’ve had that kind of experience and we know what to do.”

Arkansas finished 21st in the national meet a year ago and return three members of the team who raced at the NCAA Championships on the Oklahoma State course. They include Mia Cochran, Sydney Thorvaldson, and Mary Ellen Eudaly, who were all freshman last season.

Cochran, the fifth finisher among freshmen among the NCAA field in 2022, led the Razorback trio in placing 64th while Thorvaldson was the eighth finisher among freshmen in the field.

“We’ve got good energy on that course and we’re hoping to take that back here this weekend,” said Elliott. “We’re just going to focus on our execution, everybody is going to do their job and we’ll see where we stack up against those big teams.

“They may be ranked in front of us, but they still have to get out there and get the job done. We’re going to make them run honest. We’re going to do what we can do and see where we stack up against them.”

In the Pre-Nationals meet, Arkansas freshman Paityn Noe finished third in the race with a time of 19:49.6 that ranks 10th best ever on the Panorama Farms course.

After leading the Razorbacks to a runner-up team finish in the SEC Championship, by just 10 points behind Florida, Noe didn’t race in the South Central region meet where the Razorbacks claimed a 12th consecutive victory.

Other members of the team Elliott will chose to fill the seven positions on race day include Nyah Hernandez, Heidi Nielson, Mackenzie Rogers, and Tiana LoStracco.

In a season of coaching transition for the cross country program following the summer retirement of legend Lance Harter, Elliott has guided the Razorbacks to the national meet.

“Megan has done a phenomenal job with this team,” said Arkansas men’s head coach Chris Bucknam. “I’m watching from the side, but she’s done a great job in taking over the team. I know what it feels like to follow a legend. To have this team in contention like she does just speaks to her talent and I’m proud of her for what she’s done.”

Elliott added: “I’m grateful to Coach Johnson for the opportunity and that he has entrusted me with the program. Following a legacy is no easy task. Finishing 10 points short at SECs from the outside may seem like a failure, but it’s not to me and the program. That’s been my message to this group. We just have to keep our head down and keep grinding. Our time is going to come.

“That’s a tribute to all the work and legacy that’s been put in before us. All the work previous runners have done to get the program where it is, just to be good year in and year out. Maybe the staff looks a little different than last year, but the mission is the same. We want to be the best and we want to hold the program and keep it at a very high level.”